Aussie dollar doldrums stems IT brain drain

Australia’s tumbling dollar, combined with a slump in the U.S. IT market, is taking the pressure off the nation’s ever-present ‘brain drain’ problem.

According to John Rawlinson, TMP Worldwide Inc. eResourcing IT&T director, demand for IT contractors globally has eased with no one country aggressively searching for talent, except the U.K. where the market is still strong.

However, Paul Gorman, IT manager for Telstra Corp. Ltd., disagrees: “Most new graduates and new talent are leaving the country because of the (low Australian) dollar, and seem to be going to Europe.”

“Within the (Western Australia) region, Telstra lost half a dozen or so engineering, technical and programming contractors from various divisions to the mobile data area of IT in Europe.”

Rawlinson said Australia had suffered from a drain of IT talent overseas for some years, not so much as a result of the exchange rate, but due to an unwillingness by Australian companies to pay high salaries.

“The dollar is an issue as 50 or 60 thousand in Australian dollars is clearly not as attractive as 50 to 60 (thousand) in U.S. dollars.”

Mike Bryan, Candle IT&T Recruitment operations manager for New South Wales, agrees: “Overseas postings are more attractive probably from a financial perspective, but not a lot of it is happening.”

Despite Australia’s weak exchange rates, Bryan said the flow of overseas talent into Australia was still occurring.

“We are still bringing in people due to a high demand in certain skills, or if there are insufficient people with certain skills available in Australia. There are also cases of highly skilled specialists who go where the demand is, but mostly IT professionals coming to Australia come for other reasons, such as quality-of-life issues.”

Rawlinson said in the past, Australia had not been very competitive in attracting IT professionals from overseas. “If a person is coming from the U.S., U.K., India or Asia, they will look at their saving power, and in Australia that is obviously a lot less. (Also) the U.S. dollar has been so strong and a large pool of talent, particularly from India, has been attracted to the U.S. But with the slowing of demand in the U.S., we are able to attract Indian professionals.”

Bryan said his company has seen more of a tightening of permanent jobs, rather than a change in the demand for contractors within the Australian marketplace.

Gorman agrees: “I don’t think the industry will give up using contractors because we’re all going to continue doing short-term projects. For 30 to 90-day period projects, I don’t think we have the IT skills here to stop using contractors.”